A Comprehensive Eye Exam: an Essential School Supply
Good vision is critical for success in school. Children are expected to see the blackboard, read their textbooks and complete their homework on a daily basis, and all of these are tasks that require good eyesight. A child who cannot see clearly is at a severe disadvantage, and may even be misdiagnosed with a learning disorder.
Recent Survey Reveals Common Misconceptions
Experts have shown that 60% of "problem learners" actually have undiagnosed vision problems, but few parents have a comprehensive eye exam on their back-to-school checklist. In fact, the Eye-Q® survey recently conducted by the American Optometric Association (AOA) revealed that 87% of respondents were unaware that one in four children has a vision problem, and only 39% of adults understand that behavioral problems can be an indication of vision problems.
Signs of Vision Problems in Children
The following signs are often overlooked by parents, but could indicate a vision problem. Take note if your child:
- sits close to the television or holds objects close to see them
- has trouble with or avoids close work
- complains of headaches, blurriness, double-vision, dizziness, or itching, burning, or scratchy eyes
- squints, frowns, or rubs eyes frequently
- covers one eye, or tilts or turns head to use one eye only
- has trouble reading
School Vision Screenings: No Substitute for a Doctor's Eye Exam
Many parents rely on their school's yearly vision tests. Unfortunately, most schools only test one thing, visual acuity, and oftentimes only at one distance. Sometimes the testing is not even done by professionals, but by whoever is a handy or even another student. While this may be helpful in catching certain problems between doctor's visits, this is NOT a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam given by a licensed eye doctor.
According to the AOA's Vision & Learning Specialist, Dr. Leonard Press, "Comprehensive eye exams are necessary to detect problems that a simple screening can miss, such as eye coordination, moderate amounts of farsightedness and astigmatism."
Eye Exam Essentials
A child's eye exam should test the following:
- Visual Acuity - the ability to see clearly and read at various distances
- Eye Focusing and Accommodation - the ability to focus on an object and keep that focus as the object moves closer or further away
- Binocular Vision (Eye Teaming, Convergence, Stereopis) - how well the eyes move and work as a team, depth perception
- Ocular Motility - the extraocular muscles should move the eye smoothly in all directions with no signs of weakness
- Eye tracking - the ability to move the eyes across a piece of paper, as when reading
- Peripheral Vision - the width of your field of vision when looking straight ahead
- Color Vision - the ability to distinguish between different colors, essential for preschoolers, as lessons often depend on color recognition
- Visual Motor Integration - eye-hand-body coordination, the ability to combine visual input with the other senses, balance, and body movements
- Overall Eye Health - the structures of the eye are checked for abnormalities
Some of the conditions the above tests can diagnose include:
- Amblyopia (lazy eye)
- Strabismus (deviating eyes)
Eye Exams: When to Start and How Often
The AOA recommends that a child have their first eye exam when they are six months old. The child should be examined again at age three, and then every two years once he or she begins school. "A child's brain learns how to use eyes to see, just like it learns how to use legs to walk or a mouth to form words," said Dr. Press. "Good vision doesn't just happen."
Early detection and treatment is the key to your child's learning and success. "The longer a vision problem goes undiagnosed and untreated," said Dr. Press, "the more a child's brain has to overcompensate to live with the vision problem, instead of developing and learning normally." Unfortunately, 57% of children did not receive their first eye exam before age 5, according to the Eye-Q® survey.
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